10 Ways Companies and Governments Bust Unions


Freedom at Work to organize in the workplace and bargain collectively gives workers a voice on the job and the opportunity to strive towards a better life. Workers around the world face systematic barriers to organizing including egregious acts of violence and intimidation.

Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining are part of the four core labor standards recognized by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights yet these rights are frequently violated.  View ILRF’s Freedom at Work Toolkit here.
The following outlines common tactics used by governments and employers worldwide:
10 Ways Companies and Governments Bust Unions

  1. Hiring paramilitary groups or colluding with local police or military forces to perform violent acts of intimidation against union leaders, activists and their families. These acts include assassinations, death threats, false arrests and physical and verbal harassment. According to the International Trade Union Confederation’s Annual Survey, 76 unionists were killed in 2008. Colombia continues to be the most dangerous place to be a union leader and the Philippine military systematically commits acts of violence and intimidation against unionists.
  2. Contracting workers out to temporary employment agencies, labor “cooperatives,” or moving them to short-term contracts to disable them from joining unions and bargaining collectively. Even when contract workers can legally unionize, they are less likely to risk being fired for unionizing when their jobs are so precarious. Learn about Pakistani Lipton workers’ struggle to organize and become permanent employees.
  3. Firing workers who are organizing or workers who are already union members. In countries where it is illegal to fire workers without “just cause,” firings are often under the guise of “layoffs” where many workers are told to leave but only non-union members are hired back. Learn about Turkish workers’ who were fired for trying to unionize.
  4. Blacklisting workers who were fired for organizing throughout a particular region or industry, sending an even stronger message that employers will not allow workers to form organizations of their choice. Learn about pineapple workers who were blacklisted for unionizing in Costa Rica.
  5. Benefiting from Export Processing Zones (EPZs) which are often exempt from laws establishing freedom of association, the right to bargain collectively and other labor laws. It is almost always illegal to strike in EPZs, so when workers protest the conditions – which are often some of the worst in the country – they can be arrested, or subjected to violence. An estimated 63 million people are employed in EPZs worldwide. Over 53 million are accounted for in Asia with China alone accounting for 40 million. Learn about violence against workers in EPZs in the Philippines.
  6. Factory and farm closings, reorganizations and relocations that are specifically designed to eliminate union presence or send a message that “unions force factories to close.” The same facility often reopens with new non-union employees miles away. Learn about Russell workers in Honduras.
  7. Replacing independent unions with company-dominated unions or company run “committees” comprised of workers chosen by management. Certain countries allow companies to negotiate “pacts” or other non-binding “agreements” meant to replace legally binding collective bargaining agreements (CBAs). They are rarely democratically negotiated by workers. These tactics are often promoted by employer-funded anti-union schools meant to spread discriminatory messages about unions to workers starting at a young age. Learn about Dole cut-flower workers’ struggle in Colombia to battle a company dominated union and the Liberian Firestone workers’ independent union.
  8. Interfering in the union registration or collective bargaining process and manipulating workers into revoking their union memberships. Interference in the union process often occurs at the government labor department level. It is also common for companies to refuse to bargain a contract (CBA) with workers for years on end, even if their union is legally registered. This frustrates workers and weakens the union. Learn about truckers in the U.S. who are being denied the right to collectively bargain.
  9. Exploiting migrants and children and recruiting them to replace union workers or serve as “strikebreakers” are common tactics used by companies to create xenophobic resentment and decrease solidarity amongst workers. Migrants are sometimes legally barred from unionizing and employers often threaten to deport migrant workers who try to organize. Children are also illegally employed as another tactic to undermine adult union organizing efforts.
  10. Criminalizing labor activists through defamation charges, false arrests, arrests of striking or protesting workers or illegal detentions. In countries where counter-terrorism efforts targeting rebel groups are strong, military forces have accused union activists of being terrorists. Learn about criminalization of unionists in the Philippines.

If your union is facing repression or violence because of your organizing, please contact ILRF at


Major victory for worker’s rights in Ohio tonight:

Nov. 8, 2011: Ohio Voters Repeal Anti-Worker Law (by AFLCIONow)
Video: Debt Commission's Cuts Are Unacceptable

Watch AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka blast Congress’s debt reduction “super committee” for hundreds of billions of dollars in proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits, as well as Medicaid.

Be sure to share it on Facebook and Twitter with your friends and family.

And stay alert. We may soon need you to take action to save the middle class. Hours or even minutes could matter. We are the 99%, and Congress needs to represent us. It’s that simple.


We stand in solidarity with deported workers. #not1more

CEO pay went up in 2011. Again.

The average CEO pay of companies in the S&P 500 Index rose to $12.94 million in 2011. Overall, the average level of CEO pay in the S&P 500 Index increased 13.9 percent in 2011, following a 22.8 percent increase in CEO pay in 2010. Read More »

#WiUnion #WeAreOne

I am continually amazed at the tenacity and resilience of the people of Wisconsin.  

They continue day after day fighting for what they believe in, and it is truly inspiring.  This historic republican over-reach will have lasting consequences to the GOP and the face of politics.  But one thing that I find most inspiring is the awakening of the American spirit in unity for the middle class.  This is a historic time for this country - as the Super rich try to tighten their noose on politics and the agenda in this country - workers have come out of the woodwork to fight for their way of life.  And we will win.  History tells us so.

I am proud to call myself a Wisconsinite, and will continue to fight for my friends and family that still live in Wisconsin.

I was asked if I live in California, why do I care so much about what is happening in Wisconsin?  My answer was simple.  My battle lies wherever it needs to be in this country.  As long as I have a breath in my body, I will fight for what I believe is right.  

That’s the way I was born.  And if I can inspire just one other person to stand up and fight too - then it was worth it to me.

We are One.  

Work Connects Us All 

This piece was commissioned by the AFL-CIO national workers union in 2013 to both celebrate May Day and demand immigration reform for the over 11 million undocumented migrants living in the United States. The phrase, “Work Connects Us All,” was part of a larger campaign by the AFL-CIO that sought to expand national awareness about the divide between the 99 percent and the elites. Efforts in some states to take away rights of working people to come together in unions have given rise to a growing recognition of the bonds shared by working people.

This piece was distributed by the thousands in a number of major cities throughout the United States at pro-migrant rallies. I secured a few copies of the poster before they ran out. 

You can see this and more art on my online art store

The Day the Middle Class Died

Portrait, Michael Moore, 04/03/09. (photo: Ann-Christine Poujoulat/Getty)

By Michael Moore, Open Mike Blog

06 August 11

rom time to time, someone under 30 will ask me, “When did this all begin, America’s downward slide?” They say they’ve heard of a time when working people could raise a family and send the kids to college on just one parent’s income (and that college in states like California and New York was almost free). That anyone who wanted a decent paying job could get one. That people only worked five days a week, eight hours a day, got the whole weekend off and had a paid vacation every summer. That many jobs were union jobs, from baggers at the grocery store to the guy painting your house, and this meant that no matter how “lowly” your job was you had guarantees of a pension, occasional raises, health insurance and someone to stick up for you if you were unfairly treated.

Young people have heard of this mythical time - but it was no myth, it was real. And when they ask, “When did this all end?”, I say, “It ended on this day: August 5th, 1981.”

Beginning on this date, 30 years ago, Big Business and the Right Wing decided to “go for it” - to see if they could actually destroy the middle class so that they could become richer themselves.

And they’ve succeeded.

On August 5, 1981, President Ronald Reagan fired every member of the air traffic controllers union (PATCO) who’d defied his order to return to work and declared their union illegal. They had been on strike for just two days.

It was a bold and brash move. No one had ever tried it. What made it even bolder was that PATCO was one of only three unions that had endorsed Reagan for president! It sent a shock wave through workers across the country. If he would do this to the people who were with him, what would he do to us?

Reagan had been backed by Wall Street in his run for the White House and they, along with right-wing Christians, wanted to restructure America and turn back the tide that President Franklin D. Roosevelt started - a tide that was intended to make life better for the average working person. The rich hated paying better wages and providing benefits. They hated paying taxes even more. And they despised unions. The right-wing Christians hated anything that sounded like socialism or holding out a helping hand to minorities or women.

Reagan promised to end all that. So when the air traffic controllers went on strike, he seized the moment. In getting rid of every single last one of them and outlawing their union, he sent a clear and strong message: The days of everyone having a comfortable middle class life were over. America, from now on, would be run this way:

  • The super-rich will make more, much much more, and the rest of you will scramble for the crumbs that are left.
  • Everyone must work! Mom, Dad, the teenagers in the house! Dad, you work a second job! Kids, here’s your latch-key! Your parents might be home in time to put you to bed.
  • 50 million of you must go without health insurance! And health insurance companies: you go ahead and decide who you want to help - or not.
  • Unions are evil! You will not belong to a union! You do not need an advocate! Shut up and get back to work! No, you can’t leave now, we’re not done. Your kids can make their own dinner.
  • You want to go to college? No problem - just sign here and be in hock to a bank for the next 20 years!
  • What’s “a raise”? Get back to work and shut up!

And so it went. But Reagan could not have pulled this off by himself in 1981. He had some big help:


The biggest organization of unions in America told its members to cross the picket lines of the air traffic controllers and go to work. And that’s just what these union members did. Union pilots, flight attendants, delivery truck drivers, baggage handlers - they all crossed the line and helped to break the strike. And union members of all stripes crossed the picket lines and continued to fly.

Reagan and Wall Street could not believe their eyes! Hundreds of thousands of working people and union members endorsing the firing of fellow union members. It was Christmas in August for Corporate America.

And that was the beginning of the end. Reagan and the Republicans knew they could get away with anything - and they did. They slashed taxes on the rich. They made it harder for you to start a union at your workplace. They eliminated safety regulations on the job. They ignored the monopoly laws and allowed thousands of companies to merge or be bought out and closed down. Corporations froze wages and threatened to move overseas if the workers didn’t accept lower pay and less benefits. And when the workers agreed to work for less, they moved the jobs overseas anyway.

And at every step along the way, the majority of Americans went along with this. There was little opposition or fight-back. The “masses” did not rise up and protect their jobs, their homes, their schools (which used to be the best in the world). They just accepted their fate and took the beating.

I have often wondered what would have happened had we all just stopped flying, period, back in 1981. What if all the unions had said to Reagan, “Give those controllers their jobs back or we’re shutting the country down!”? You know what would have happened. The corporate elite and their boy Reagan would have buckled.

But we didn’t do it. And so, bit by bit, piece by piece, in the ensuing 30 years, those in power have destroyed the middle class of our country and, in turn, have wrecked the future for our young people. Wages have remained stagnant for 30 years. Take a look at the statistics and you can see that every decline we’re now suffering with had its beginning in 1981 (here’s a little scene to illustrate that from my last movie).

It all began on this day, 30 years ago. One of the darkest days in American history. And we let it happen to us. Yes, they had the money, and the media and the cops. But we had 200 million of us. Ever wonder what it would look like if 200 million got truly upset and wanted their country, their life, their job, their weekend, their time with their kids back?

Have we all just given up? What are we waiting for? Forget about the 20% who support the Tea Party - we are the other 80%! This decline will only end when we demand it. And not through an online petition or a tweet. We are going to have to turn the TV and the computer and the video games off and get out in the streets (like they’ve done in Wisconsin). Some of you need to run for local office next year. We need to demand that the Democrats either get a spine and stop taking corporate money - or step aside.

When is enough, enough? The middle class dream will not just magically reappear. Wall Street’s plan is clear: America is to be a nation of Haves and Have Nothings. Is that OK for you?

Why not use today to pause and think about the little steps you can take to turn this around in your neighborhood, at your workplace, in your school? Is there any better day to start than today?

P.S. Here are a few places you can connect with to get the ball rolling:

Main Street Contract for America 
Showdown in America 
Democracy Convention 
Occupy Wall Street 
October 2011 
How to Join a Union by the AFL-CIO (they’ve learned their lesson and have a good president now), or 
UE Change to Win 
High School Newspaper (Just because you’re under 18 doesn’t mean you can’t do anything!)

What’s Behind Clinton’s Secret Meeting With Labor Leaders?

Politico is reporting that Hillary Clinton is meeting privately with labor leaders in DC in a couple weeks.

What will the meeting entail? Who knows! It’s secret.

In recent weeks, Clinton has had run-ins with labor leaders over her positions—or lack thereof—on trade and the minimum wage. Clinton has refused to endorse President Obama’s Pacific trade deal, despite advocating for it as Secretary of State. And on the minimum wage, Clinton has endorsed the efforts of those fighting for the $15 minimum wage, but not the $15 minimum wage itself.

Is Clinton using her secret meeting with labor leaders to finally reveal her secret positions? Or maybe using the meeting to firm up their support before publicly advocating for their issues?